I started out this column about a year back, lamenting the generally poor quality of movie posters in our country, the lack of aesthetic understanding or finesse — not to mention rampant instances of plagiarism, and the fact that they are hardly seen or treated as an art form any more. Not a lot has changed or evolved in the mainstream since the early 2000s (when we had just begun to see some innovation)— in fact in some ways, we have regressed.
Still, from the general pool of crass mediocrity and lazy work, there have been some bright spots. 2018 in particular – to my great surprise – turned out to be an absolute banner year for Indian movie posters — apart from two Bollywood posters, there was some extraordinary artwork from the Southern film industries as well as independent cinema.
There were many posters from 2018 that would easily merit a place on this list, but to avoid repetition, I have included only one. If you missed it (or even if you didn’t), I urge you to (re)visit my best posters of 2018 list.
So while there wasn’t a wealth of fantastic posters this decade to choose from, it was still a struggle to pare this list down to a top 10. The best and most memorable key art features strong, iconographic imagery that gets imprinted on our minds. Here are some movie posters that have stayed with me ever since I first saw them — few that have already endured the test of time, and others that I suspect won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
10. Talvar (2015)
The posters of Talvar effectively give the film an aura of gravitas, striking a fine balance between drama and restraint. The teaser poster features an imposing image of Lady Justice standing tall against a backdrop of ominous dark clouds even as the foundations of the statue seem to be crumbling and chipping away. Superimposed on the image are scribbled notes that read ‘double murder case’ which add to a powerful sense of doom.
The other poster, with Irrfan’s face superimposed over newspaper reports about the case is relatively conventional, but has a great sense of tone, capturing the film’s journalistic and non-sensationalist approach with finesse.
9. Rowdy Rathore (2012)
Rowdy Rathore had what is easily one of the most fun poster campaigns this decade, with its gloriously pulpy artwork (rendered in a colourful, old-school hand-painted style) and its terrifically cheeky and punchy taglines, ranging from Faulad ki Aulaad to Ilaaka Tera, Dhamaka Mera to Bheegi Choli, Happy Holi. It actually makes me wish that these posters belonged to a better film.
8. Lootera (2013)
It’s rare to see Bollywood posters that confidently use a single, strikingly uncluttered, unadorned (and grainy!) image — and for much of Lootera’s publicity campaign, design agency 24EightyOne (previously known as Technicolor) did just that — letting Ishika Mohan Motwane’s gorgeous on-set photographs breathe and do the heavy lifting. This image of Varun and Pakhi in a cozy embrace inside a vintage car exudes romance, quiet elegance and old-world charm. The cold winter landscape beautifully contrasts with the car’s warm, glowing interiors, and the poster subtly tells us a story — she’s vulnerable and helplessly in love, and he’s a man with secrets who will inevitably break her heart.
7. Super Deluxe (2019)
Intricately constructed and visibly hand-crafted, designer Gopi Prasannaa’s poster for Super Deluxe is a thing of beauty. Inspired by old vintage lithograph art, the poster uses a combination of photographs and illustration to give the film an epic canvas, bursting with intriguing details and easter eggs. You can read more about the process of making the poster in my interview with the designer. And for fans of the film, the poster is available to purchase in a fantastic collector’s edition here.
6. Machines (2017)
Absolutely stellar title typography expertly juxtaposed against atmospheric, evocative photographs creates visual magic on these posters for Rahul Jain’s award-winning documentary Machines, which observes the life of workers at a textile factory in Gujarat.
5. Thithi (2016)
The primary poster for Thithi is a charming portrait of its eccentric protagonist Gaddappa, sporting an enigmatic, almost Mona-Lisa smile. But that’s not all — the poster is actually a hand-made tapestry, painstakingly embroidered by thread over a digital illustration. While the primary poster has yellow type popping beautifully over the turquoise background, the second poster inverts the colour scheme, with a striking photo-collage of its characters (and a lot of sheep) on a cheery yellow background. The first poster gives us a taste of the film’s droll humour and the second one captures its comic chaos.
4. Jallikattu (2019)
Cochin-based agency Old Monks Design has created the posters for all of director Lijo Jose Pelissery’s films. Last year, they gave us this stunning teaser poster for Jallikattu, which was created with actual mud (from a tile factory) mixed with water and drawn on paper — and later enhanced digitally. Tragically, the man behind it, the agency’s lead designer R. Mahesh passed away earlier this year following a heart attack. With this poster, which already feels iconic — he couldn’t have had a better swansong.
3. Love Sex aur Dhokha (2010)
Bold, fearless and clutter-breaking — the posters for Dibakar Banerjee’s Love Sex aur Dhokha were a perfect reflection of the film, sharply depicting its prickly themes of sexuality and voyeurism. Having broken new ground with the trippy designs of Dev D, veteran agency Marching Ants took that style a step forward with a radical publicity campaign for LSD which completely eschewed actors’ faces in favour of strong, cleverly suggestive graphic imagery that was eye-grabbing without being sleazy or tacky.
2. Jigarthanda (2014)
With its terrific hand-drawn illustrations and dazzling pink and neon-blue colour scheme, the posters for Karthik Subbaraj’s Jigarthanda are an absolute head-rush — easily some of the most spectacularly original, cool and distinctive artwork I have seen for an Indian film. Jigarthanda is about a young filmmaker who wants to make a gangster film, and in the process gets entangled with a bunch of mobsters in Madurai and the posters. Because everything he does end up incomplete, the running theme across the posters is ‘unfinished art’. Read this interview with designer Tuney John to know more about the making of the posters, from concept to artwork.
1. Court (2015)
And finally, my favourite poster of the decade has to be the poster for Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court. It’s not an easy film to represent on a poster, but this image manages to superbly encapsulate both the film’s pitch black humour and its Kafka-esque sense of absurdity and doom. The film’s protagonist Narayan Kamble is accused of inciting the alleged suicide of a manhole worker, and the poster depicts him trapped in a courtroom, waist deep in a manhole with cockroaches crawling out, the blue colour scheme symbolic of his Dalit identity. With earthy tones and symmetrical design, the poster is a surreal, tragicomic portrait of Indian judicial bureaucracy.